As much as we adore Jennifer Aniston, her 2006 movie The Break-Up was, well, pretty forgettable. In it, she plays one-half of a couple traveling the rocky road to Splitsville. But there’s one scene that’s stayed with me to this day: After a dinner party, Aniston’s character Brooke asks her boyfriend Gary (played by Vince Vaughn) to help her wash dishes. Instead, he suggests putting it off until the following morning so he can play video games. She’s already annoyed, so it doesn’t take long for her to blow up—after all, no one likes to wake up to dirty dishes, amirite?
When he finally throws down his game controller in exasperation to get off the couch and help, Brooke backtracks her request. “Oh come on, you know what, that’s not what I want,” she says, shaking her head.
“You just said you want me to help you do the dishes,” Gary replies, bewildered.
“I want you to want to do the dishes,” she says, echoing a point we women have been trying to make to our partners since the dawn of time.
In fact, according to a recent study published in the journal Socius, among all household chores, washing dirty dishes is the one that has the most impact on relationship quality. As lead author Dan Carlson, an assistant professor of family and consumer studies at the University of Utah, wrote in a brief for the Council on Contemporary Families (CCF), “all housework isn’t created equal.”
In an effort to assess how far along American society is in the fight for gender equality—obviously, we’ve still got a ways to go, since a number of high-profile men who’ve been implicated in the #metoo movement are already plotting their returns to the spotlight—the study’s authors decided to investigate how contemporary heterosexual couples are splitting up household chores. Since more women are getting college degrees, starting their own businesses, and becoming CEOs, are more men pitching in at the house? And what does that mean in terms of marital satisfaction?
According to their analysis of two different sets of data gathered between 1992 and 2006 from low- to middle-income couples, researchers found that the proportion of people sharing the routine household duties most of us hate to do has increased over the years. (Yay, progress!) The evidence also shows that divvying up such duties “generally result[s] in higher quality relationships,” the authors write.
Additionally, they found that the more common it is for a task to be shared (such as doing dishes, when one person can wash and the other can dry), the more likely it is to be a source of contention, particularly for women. “As of 2006,” Carlson wrote in his CCF brief, “women who found themselves doing the lion’s share of dishwashing reported significantly more relationship discord, lower relationship satisfaction, and less sexual satisfaction than women who split the dishes with their partner. Sharing responsibility for dishwashing was the single biggest source of satisfaction for women among all the household tasks, and lack of sharing of this task the single biggest source of discontent.”
And, for what it’s worth, two of the factors the researchers used to determine relationship quality had to do with sex: that is, frequency and satisfaction. In the set of data that was gathered in the mid-2000s, they write, “couples reported greater sexual and relationship satisfaction with more egalitarian distributions of all routine tasks, a significant difference from the early 1990s.”
Say it with me: Egalitarianism is sexy AF. As someone who’s fortunate enough to have a partner who actually does dishes without me asking, I can confirm: There’s nothing more attractive than a man with dishpan hands.